Universal Music Chief Says Label Owes Artists ‘Transparency’ Over Vault Fire Losses
Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge told employees to be transparent with any artist asking about whether their recordings were destroyed in a 2008 fire at Universal Studios, the Los Angeles Times reports.
In an internal memo circulated to employees (and obtained by the LA Times), Grainge said, “Let me be clear: we owe our artists transparency. We owe them answers. I will ensure that the senior management of this company, starting with me, owns this.”
Grainge also outlined proper protocol should an artist get in touch about the status of their recordings. He said artists should be put in contact with UMG’s Senior Vice President of Recording Studios and Archive Management, and added that the SVP had formed a team to “field these requests and respond to them as promptly as we can.”
An estimated 500,000 recordings — including irreplaceable master tapes and unreleased material— were allegedly lost in the fire, according to a recent story in The New York Times Magazine. The damages reportedly covered a swath of artists ranging from Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Chuck Berry to Elton John, Nirvana, the Roots and Janet Jackson.
While the fire was widely covered in 2008, UMG downplayed the destruction, with one spokesman claiming at the time, “In a sense, nothing was lost.” Following the New York Times story, the label again disputed the extent of the damage, claiming the piece contained “numerous misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets.”
In his memo, Grainge continued to suggest that the damage was not so great, though he did admit any kind of loss was painful. “Even though that event happened more than a decade ago, and while I’ve been somewhat relieved by early reports from our team that many of the assertions and subsequent speculation are not accurate, one thing is clear: the loss of even a single piece of archived material is heartbreaking,” he said.
Grainge also seemed to suggest the likely loss of a trove of unreleased and unheard recordings from legendary artists, writing, “Even though all of the released recordings lost in the fire will live on forever, losing so much archival material is nonetheless painful. These stories have prompted speculation, and having our artists and songwriters not knowing whether the speculation is accurate is completely unacceptable.”
News of Grainge’s memo comes after reports that attorneys Howard King and Ed McPherson planned to file lawsuits against UMG on behalf of numerous artists in the coming weeks. The pair reportedly sent a joint letter to Grainge in which they asked for “a complete inventory” of all recordings destroyed in the fire. “It is important to all artists who may have been affected by this calamity to know the truth regarding the condition of their master recordings stored by Universal,” King said.
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